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What is a Hypocrite?
While the Christian commits a sin he hates it; whereas the hypocrite loves it while he forbears it. ~William Gurnall
What is a true hypocrite?
Many times Christians are called hypocrites because they do things that go against what the Bible teaches, teachings that they preach about. Non-Christians use this as a reason to not go to church or become a follower of Jesus Christ. I know of a pastor who says, "Well, there's always room for one more." I wouldn't say that to someone, but he has a point.
In the New Testament, Jesus, in a very confrontational way, directs the name "hypocrite" to the religious leaders of the day. And yet he does not call his disciples hypocrites when they fail to live up to what Jesus preaches. What is the difference here? Is this Jesus' double standard? No, not at all.
Strongs Concordance (# 5272, 5273) states that the word hypocrite comes from the Greek hypokritis. Very simply put, it is an actor. One who pretends to be someone he is not. You could also call them charlatans, pretenders, phonies, deceivers, etc. The idea is that their acting or deception is intentional.
Pharisees, the ultimate hypocrites
The Pharisees (the Jewish religious leaders in Jesus' day) were the epitome of hypocrisy. They claimed to live in obedience to the Old Testament law, and made a show of doing so. Furthermore, they scrutinized everyone else to call them on their sin (the beam and the speck). They would make a big show out of going to the temple, and with much to-do, pay their tithes (10 percent of their income). They patted themselves on the back for their generous giving to the blind beggar at Nicanor Gate. They prayed long, eloquent, pious prayers in front of the crowds. They claimed they knew their Torah, taught it proudly, and went to temple whenever the doors were open. They offered sacrifices, performed all their rituals, and celebrated all the religious holidays. And they were very quick to jump in and condemn Jews who disobeyed the law. They wore phylacteries with the word of God on them. On the outside these men seemed to all the world to be pious, holy, righteous, and religious men, devoted to God in the practice of and enforcement of the law.
But Jesus saw through them. He got right in their face and called them hypocrites, broods of vipers, and white washed sepulchers in Matthew 23. It's a long passage, as it takes up most of the chapter. If you don't feel like reading the whole thing, just look at a few verses and realize that that was his discourse all the way to the end.
Jesus, in Matthew 6, warns the disciples not to behave like the hypocrites by sounding a horn when they do charitable deeds to be seen and praised by men (vs. 2); not pray out loud in the synagogue and in the street like the hypocrites do, so that men might see them and praise them; not to look like they are suffering when they are fasting like the hypocrites do, so that people will see how pious they are because they fast. Jesus follows each of these remarks with the exhortation to keep these things private, just between them and God.
The story of the sinner and the Pharisee
In Luke 18, Jesus tells the story of a Pharisee who was wealthy and highly regarded as a man of God and good citizen, and a tax collector, the most despised of men in the land. Tax collectors did nothing but lie and cheat people out of their money to fill their pockets. They did not have friends anywhere, except for other tax collectors. The Pharisees were seemingly holy on the outside, but were thieves, cheaters, heartless, and self-serving. This story is quite telling about the difference between a proud, self-righteous man (the Pharisee), and a tax collector who has come face to face with his sin and repents before God. Guess who God forgives? Hear the story from Jesus Himself in this video:
The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
The pharisees minded what God spoke, but not what He intended. They were busy in the outward work of the hand, but incurious of the affections and choice of the heart. So God was served in the letter, they did not much inquire into His purpose; and therefore they were curious to wash their hands, but cared not to purify their hearts.
Who was forgiven?
The answer is that the tax collector was forgiven and welcome in heaven when his time on earth was done. Why? Because of his sincere repentance, utter humility, and whole-hearted desire to be right before God. Not only that, but he never pretended to be a holy person. The Pharisee looked down his nose at the tax collector, feeling superior and trying very hard to show God how pure and holy he himself was. Jesus knew both of their hearts. The Pharisee is the hypocrite because he is playing the actor by doing all the outward religious actions, but in his heart he could care less what God requires of his heart, and his life underneath is evil. Paul got it right when he said, "For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death" (2 Cor. 7:10).
What about the sinning disciples?
When Jesus was taken away at His arrest, the disciple Peter followed along at a distance to see what would happen to Jesus. He was full of fear that he too might be beaten and persecuted. Here is what happened when Peter denied that he knew Christ:
"Hypocrites in the Church? Yes, and in the lodge and at the home. Don't hunt through the Church for a hypocrite. Go home and look in the mirror. Hypocrites? Yes. See that you make the number one less."
Jesus forgave Peter
If you noticed in this dramatization of Peter's denial of Christ, when Peter realized what he had done, he wept in sorrow and shame at what he had done. Later on, after Jesus was resurrected from the dead, he told Mary Magdalene to go tell the disciples and Peter that He had risen. Later still, Peter and Jesus were on the beach, and Jesus welcomed Peter back. He knew Peter deep inside was repentant. Peter, under the power of the Holy Spirit, went on to lead the first Church and preached one of the greatest soul- winning sermons ever on the day of Pentecost. Peter was not proud after his sin, he did not deny that he had sinned. But he turned away from it and back to God. God know our hearts. God once told Samuel the prophet "God looks on the heart, not outward appearances."
The adulterous woman and her accusers
In John 8, a group of religious leaders of Jesus' day brought to him a woman caught in the act of adultery. They told him "Lord, we caught her in the very act. Moses said she should be stoned. What do you say?" The Bible says that Jesus stooped down and began drawing on the sand. We are not told what he wrote, but he finally looked up at them and said, "He who is without sin, throw the first stone." Here is the rest of the story:
Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”
She said, “No one, Lord.”
And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
Notice their consciences were convicted. That means that whatever Jesus was writing (there is speculation he was writing down their sins), along with his words to "cast the first stone if you are sinless," pierced their consciences, and they suddenly knew their own sins. Considering their pompousness, arrogance, self-righteousness, and lives of hypocrisy, it says a lot that their consciences were pricked, an unusual occurrence for them.
The woman did not get off scot free with Jesus' blessing to continue on with her way of life. Rather, He saw her sense of shame, her repentant heart, and thus told her "Go, and sin no more."
It is sad that those who consciences were pricked did not repent.
How can we avoid being a hypocrite?
The difference is this: A true hypocrite lives a deliberate life of pretending in both worlds. He is not just one who has occasional moments of hypocrisy; it's a consistent lifestyle of deliberate deception. Because they are often very good actors, we may not be able to discern that they are fake. Personally, I don't think it's my job to figure out who is or who isn't. I have my moments of being angry when a public figure proclaiming to be a believer turns out to have made a bad name for Christians by some disgraceful thing. But sometimes, he just sinned, recognizes it, hates it, and truly repents by changing his ways seeking to make it right.
What I need to be focusing on is not being a hypocrite myself. I have had many hypocritical moments in my life, as everyone on the planet has. Most people are just your average, garden variety, sinners, who seek to live in a way that pleases God, but as human beings, blow it now and then. A humble, genuine believer will, upon realizing his sin, hate it, own it, be sorry for it, make his amends, and turn from the behavior. William Gurnall said, "While the Christian commits a sin he hates it; whereas the hypocrite loves it while he forbears it." I think that states the difference very succinctly.
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© 2011 Lori Colbo